Better Grades for 2009?
School starts again today after the winter break. I hope everyone found some time to relax. I did! I will find out tomorrow how much math I forgot when my class meets again.
One big change we're likely to see in the new year in Fairfax schools is a new grading policy. Superintendent Jack D. Dale recommended Friday that the school system add extra points to the grade-point average for students who take Honors or AP/IB classes.
This would not effect my own GPA, as my class is just regular old Algebra II! But it would effect the thousands of students who are enrolled in college-level and honors classes.
The change is a response to a huge parent-led movement to level the playing field for Fairfax students who are competing for colleges and scholarships with kids who are racking up astronomical GPAs elsewhere thanks to the extra weights. (It's not uncommon in some districts to earn a 5.4 GPA on a 4.0 scale).
Fairfax leaders have argued that their grading policy, which is light on extra GPA credit and which requires a 94 to get an A and a 64 to pass, encourages students to work harder. They have maintained that Fairfax students do okay, because colleges look at students individually and take different grading scales into account. But a school system report found that those steroid-infused GPAs actually do help some kids get merit scholarships or placement in college honors programs.
What is less clear is whether the actual grading scale helps or hurts students. Dale did not recommend adopting the more commonly used 10-point scale, citing a desire for setting high standards and a lack of hard evidence that students would benefit from it.
The report did cite one relevant study, which found that a tougher grading scale is linked to higher performance on standardized tests. But the same study found that drop out rates for Hispanic students and black students were also higher.
Few parents or students that I have talked to disagree with the notion that students who are working hard in harder classes, should get rewarded for that. But there are not many voices arguing for children who are working hard for C's, and going home with D's.
Discussions on the school board will likely include how a new grading scale will effect kids throughout the academic spectrum, not just the highest performers.
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